Every Garden Needs These 5 Edible Plants for Better Italian Cooking at Home

Listen up, Italian cuisine fans! Giada De Laurentiis and her garden pros have highlighted these plants as must-haves to spice up your at-home Italian cooking.

Backyard Garden with Italian plants
Photo: Mint Images / Getty Images

Here at Better Homes & Gardens, we’re such huge fans of all things Italian food (call us, Stanley Tucci!) that it’s pretty close to impossible to find a pizza or pasta recipe we don’t immediately swoon over. That said, some fast-casual and delivery renditions, or even some restaurant or homemade recipes, can lack a bit of fresh flair.

Since one of the many reasons we love the Mediterranean diet and recipes from that region is exactly that—the freshness factor—we were delighted to see Food Network star and cookbook author Giada De Laurentiis shining a spotlight on the best edible Italian garden plants to consider adding to our spring garden plans through her lifestyle brand Giadzy. Considering our love for edible gardening, you’re probably not shocked to hear that we’ve already added all five plants to our virtual shopping carts.

“One of the most satisfying parts of the annual growing season—second to the harvest, of course—is the time to start daydreaming about what kind of garden you want to grow,” the Giadzy team explains in its guide to How to Garden the Italian Way. “Whether you’ve got a massive backyard plot or just a few window containers, you can create a little patch of Italian sunshine this summer.”

To compile the top five list, Giadzy teamed up with Shannie McCabe, a horticulturist and garden educator with Mansfield, Missouri-based Baker Creek Seeds. McCabe tells Giadzy that her recommendations are inspired by Italian home gardens and the way they make the most of small spaces by thinking vertically with vining plants and using pots and other container gardens for fresh herbs.

Tomatoes and basil are a safe and super-satisfying place to start, De Laurentiis and McCabe agree. Plus, this dynamic duo doesn’t just play nicely together on your plate, “but they also thrive growing next to one another” in the garden, McCabe says. 

Insect-repelling nasturtium flowers, squash blossoms, fresh sage, and fresh oregano are the other runners up. 

Must-Have Edible Plants for Home Gardening

As far as the absolute best, including some up-and-coming favorites, McCabe and Giadzy recommend stocking up on seeds for the following spring garden plants.

Florence Fennel

Ideal for shaving and tossing into salads and salads or grilling in hearty wedges, these annual bulbs sprout are frost-hardy and thrive in partial sun.

Buy it: $3, rareseeds.com

Try it in: Broiled Swordfish with Fennel-Caper Slaw 

Zucchino Rampicante

This Italian heirloom squash is tender, mild, and sweet in flavor. At full size, each vegetable is about 15 inches long and delightful in everything from savory pasta dinners to sweet quick breads.

Buy it: $3.50, rareseeds.com

Try it in: Spaghetti and Zucchini Noodles with Basil-Walnut Pesto 


A staple in Sicilian gardens, local cooks use these easy-to-grow, tender, and rich-tasting vegetables similarly to how they’d employ zucchini. Bonus: They’re rarely bothered by pests. 

Buy it: $3, rareseeds.com

Try it in: Walnut-Stuffed Zucchini Boats 

Mammolo Basil

If you grow in containers, you’ll find few better bets than this compact and tidy basil variety. It’s bred to produce a high leaf to stem ratio, and is the quintessential Italian basil that’s featured in pesto Genovese recipes.

Buy it: $3, rareseeds.com

Try it in: Pesto Pasta with Charred Radicchio 

Marina di Chioggia

A mainstay at restaurants that line the canals of Venice, this meaty, sweet-tasting squash is often grilled or roasted in wedges. If you have extra, we recommend considering it any place you might normally use pumpkin.

Buy it: $3.50, rareseeds.com

Try it in: Roasted Pumpkin, Arugula, and Dried Cherry Salad

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